The press conference just ended. There will be links and stories throughout the internet soon (and, as long as it has taken me to write this, many are now up). Most of Cardinal Nation already knows, though, that Tony La Russa has decided to retire from managing the St. Louis Cardinals.
History doesn't repeat itself, but it does rhyme. In 1964, after an amazing comeback had led to a World Championship for the Cardinals, manager Johnny Keane left his position with the club to take the same job with the team he had just defeated, the New York Yankees. Keane was furious that the club had thought to fire him while the team was struggling and wouldn't accept a new contract with the organization. (Hat tip to Bob Netherton for bringing the situation to mind on Twitter.)
Now, 47 years later, an equally remarkable comeback has led to another World Championship that will have to be defended with a new man in the managerial chair.
There are a lot of names being thrown around. Jose Oquendo, of course, and former Cardinal Terry Pendleton. Terry Francona will also be considered a front-runner. Even Ryne Sandberg, as a jab at those baby bears up north. There's no telling who the next manager of the St. Louis Cardinals will be, but let's wait on that. It's time to look at who the last manager of the St. Louis Cardinals was.
A West-Coast guy that came to St. Louis already well established, it took TLR a long while to reach the fan base, or at least portions of it. I still remember when a group of fans pooled their money and rented a plane to fly over a spring training game trailing a banner that said "Fire La Russa". The early years in St. Louis were on the rough side.
Which really makes no sense. His first year, the Cards are one win away from a World Series. He was the reason the club went and got Mark McGwire, which gave us some amazing memories in 1998 and 1999.
Then we flip the calendar and begin one of the best decades ever for this organization. 2000, they go to the NLCS. 2001, they lose a heartbreaking Game 5 in the NLDS. 2002, back to the NLCS. 2003 was a down year, but it also led us to a great baseball book, Three Nights In August. 2004, a 105-win team that runs into a team of destiny in the World Series. 2005, a 100-win team that may have lost in the NLCS, but not without a defining moment.
All of that leading up to 2006. An 83-win team that was better than their record, but was more remembered for stumbling into the playoffs than for the fact that they could have been an 88-win squad with any sort of finish. A team that got healthy at the right time and played some outstanding baseball (plus took advantage of miscues from Detroit) to win #10 for #10.
2007 and 2008 were disappointments, sure, but with Chris Carpenter out for both of those years, Tony did the best with what he had. Both teams were in contention going into September, which is about the best you can hope for.
2009, another NLDS, though the results weren't what the club was hoping for. 2010 was the first year that the team really disappointed, as it collapsed in August and September after the big push to overtake the Reds. When 2011 started so slowly, many people--including myself, as you can easily check--were wondering if it was time to move on, if the methods and message were getting stale.
Boy, was I wrong.
I think it's pretty interesting that even TLR thought mid-year that it was time to move on. That he didn't necessarily have that fire in the belly that he used to. He let John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt know so they could be prepared and then he managed out the rest of the season, never letting on so as not to distract from what this team was trying to do.
We all know that he seemed more relaxed, more jovial, more emotional in the clubhouse than he'd been. Do you remember the last TLR meltdown in the press room? Neither do I. It resembled 2006 in that Tony seemed to loosen up and the team responded with a spectacular run. Now we know why. Just like the team was playing with house money, everything in this postseason was gravy for La Russa as well. He knew where he stood in history. He knew what they'd done. He could accept going out like that, but adding on was just the topper.
You have to give him credit, also, for not changing his mind after the Cards won. He could have easily talked himself into coming back. Adam Wainwright is returning, this team as constructed should make a major push next season, and he'd move past John McGraw in managerial wins. However, the fire wasn't there. Perhaps that week he took when dealing with shingles opened him to the possibility of, if not life without baseball, at least life outside of the dugout. He stayed true to the principles that made him Tony La Russa. Love him or hate him, you know that he's always done that.
Tony's the only manager a good chunk of Cardinal Nation (at least the wired ones that are using Twitter and reading the internet) have ever known. I remember Whitey Herzog, I remember Joe Torre, but my Cardinal fandom really developed with La Russa's tenure in St. Louis. Couple his time here with the explosion of the internet coverage and the ability to really live and breathe this team and it seems impossible that he won't be here constantly, staring out of the dugout with his sunglasses and thinking two innings ahead to when he'll need to double switch for David Freese.
How different is it going to be around here without Tony? There's no doubt he was the innovator. People pick on his use of the bullpen, but now everyone has a LOOGY and makes 2-3 swaps a game. Even if he took it to the extreme, it was because he knew baseball lives in the minutiae. It may only give you a 1% better chance to go to the lefthander, but so many games are won or lost in that 1%. Tony's passion for winning sometimes overrode what fans saw as common sense, but it shaped this team and this organization.
There's no doubt in my mind that no other manager in baseball and very likely no other baseball is the history of the game could have gotten the 2011 Cardinals to the title. None. No other manager could have his team that focused, that determined, for that length of time. Sure, TLR had Carpenter and Albert Pujols to help reinforce that message, but his prepared and focused demeanor was exactly what this club needed to fight off certain death day after day.
So what do we do as fans when we can't roll our eyes at the latest lineup experiment? When we have a named closer and a set pattern of doing things? When we can't blame the usage (or lack thereof) of a young player on "Tony loves his veterans"? All of our crutches, all of the things we thought we knew about the Cardinals, about this team, get to be rethought in the light of someone else other than #10 at the helm. It's going to be a hard process and I think it'll be something that helps us appreciate TLR all the more.
I know this managerial search is going to be a topic we'll hit on a number of times in the coming days, but right now, there's really only one thing to say.
The BBA has, as a secondary aim, the goal of producing year-end
awards in a similar fashion to the Baseball Writers of America. These
awards can be found at the official site in October with links back to the voters,
ensuring transparency and, most likely, the onset of some good baseball